Monday, April 24, 2006

I have a couple of observations to make about the last couple of chapters--
First, has anyone else noted the very offhand way Elliot deals with the children in this novel? Isabella pointed out earlier that there's only one line announcing Rosamund's pregnancy. Later, there are a few paragraphs devoted to the premature birth of her stillborn child, but the event is used mostly to demonstrate the direction her relationship is headed with Lydgate. She seems to recover in no time, and apparently has no lasting effects from her loss. And finally, Dorothea spends time with Celia and her baby, but doesn't seem particularly attached to it, while Celia's devotion to it is described in a distinctly satirical way. Which is funny, and spot on, and at the same time I wonder at the lack of warmth there.

Did GE have children of her own? It didn't look like it from the little bio in the front of my book, but I'm sure it's not very complete. And there is a strong bond portrayed between parents and older children, like Fred and his mother, Mary and her father. Do you suppose this would have something to do with a different attitude toward infants, when mortality rates must have been very high? Or possibly a distaste for small children on the part of the author?

The other bit I wanted to comment on was Bulstrode and his situation. I think the description of Bulstrode's gradual corruption by the world and his own desires is brilliant. It shows him in a much more human light, though he is still not a very likeable man. This paragraph is applicable to most of the characters in the book:

The spiritual kind of rescue was a genuine need with him. There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant , including ourselves, or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.

Bulstrode is a man who is changed by the world, and by his desires, and things don't turn out the way he thinks they are going to. The world becomes a little darker, a little sadder, and it seems that is the trajectory many of Middlemarch's characters are following. Any comments?

4 Comments:

Blogger Isabella said...

I'd actually missed the line about the pregnancy — had to go back and search it out. I can't find any reference to Eliot having children either — I'm guessing she didn't. It may indeed be her personal attitude toward infants but I expect too there was a general social distaste for small children.

What struck me when reading of Rosamond's loss was how little time Eliot spends on what most of us consider big and even defining events in our lives — for example, the weddings, pregnancies, birth of Celia's baby, even Casaubon's death are glossed over; it's conversations in passing that end up having lasting effects, and the more I think about it I think she's right to treat them this way actually.

That's a choice paragraph regarding Bulstrode, definitely applicable to all the characters. Everyone's trying to reconcile their ideals with reality — I think Farebrother and Caleb Garth have the greatest success. Casaubon's a pathetic victim of this, and so is Mr Brooke (though in an aimless, harmless way).

4:23 PM  
Blogger Raehan said...

I noticed that about the way Celia's and Dodo's resposne to Celia's baby was portrayed and found it really amusing, but also wondered what Eliot's real-life response to children was.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Ella said...

You know, I've been thinking about this a lot. Is it possible Eliot deliberately avoided things she saw as sentimental and 'lady-novelist'-ish, because she wanted aceptance as a serious writer?

Although, you know, maybe she just didn't like kids.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous rachel said...

She had no children. I don't know whether she liked them or not, herself, but she may very well have been reacting against the sentimentalism of her times. The Victorians could get very sappy about kids -- and not just "Lady Novelists". Ever read "The Old Curiosity Shop"? If not, don't. It's Dickens at his most embarrassing. To quote Oscar Wilde: "One would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell."

And the fact is, Rosamond's pregnancy is alluded to AT ALL. Most Victorian novels, the kids kind of just appear at intervals. You don't hear dirty words like "pregnant" or "birth". These are the people who gave us "light meat" and "dark meat", after all, to avoid having to use words like breast and leg at dinner. Preserve the modesty of that goose!

Doesn't Eliot explicitly mention Celia "nursing" her baby at one point? She may have meant simply taking care of it -- the term is nicely euphemistic -- but I like to think Celia whipped out a boob at that point.

5:57 PM  

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